Avera Medical Minute: Rotator cuff repair

From surgery to strength
Published: Aug. 14, 2023 at 9:54 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - It’s an injury that many associate with professional athletes, but even the average Joe can easily find themselves in pain from a torn rotator cuff.

The shoulder is one of the most complex structures in the human body, and doctors and therapists work together to get people back to a pain-free life.

“I’m in that scary spot where I’m still not supposed to do a whole lot, but everything feels really good,” said orthopedic patient Jeff Veltkamp.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint for Veltkamp. Actually, in a roundabout way, it was a sprint that brought him into physical therapy in the first place.

“I was doing some kind of timed interval training run, and I glanced at my watch because it buzzed at me, and the next thing I knew, I was upside down. So the reason I went to see Doctor Blake is I fell on the ice while I was out running during the winter months,” said Veltkamp.

“So we see a lot of rotator cuff tears from simple slip and fall. As you slip and fall, you reach out with an outstretched arm. The arm goes way up in the air or above that person’s head, and the tendons of the shoulder hit the under surface part of the shoulder blade, causing them to rip or to tear,” said Dr. Matthew Blake, an orthopedic surgeon with Avera Orthopedics.

Confirming the severity of the rotator cuff injury is the first step to determining the next course of action. Physical therapy and less invasive treatments are an option, but only if the MRI shows minimal damage to the shoulder joint.

“I got those results back, and it became very apparent that surgery was probably my only option. I had multiple tears, plus I dislocated my bicep tendon, so there was a lot of work that needed to be done there,” said Veltkamp.

“Everybody’s rotator cuff tear is a little bit different. Not every rotator cuff tear is the same. So you can pull those tendons and reattach them to the bone, almost like sewing your skin together. You’re sewing tendon back to bone so that the tendon and bone can heal back together,” said Dr. Blake.

“Shortly after that, I think two weeks, we started physical therapy and getting in to see my therapist and have him start moving it (my shoulder) around and just getting a little bit of mobility in there. Then I felt like I really started improving quickly,” said Veltkamp.

Under the watchful eye of physical therapist Jay Eidsness, Jeff’s range of motion has been tested and strengthened each session. He’s passing milestones and getting closer to living his active lifestyle without limitations.

“I’ve been cleared to run again, so I’ve been getting back and doing that. I was told I could do some biking, but I had to be really careful. Keep it on smooth surfaces so there’s no jarring in the shoulders and then I’m really looking forward to getting back in the pool and swimming and also golfing,” said Veltkamp.

“His pain is gone, his range of motion is better, how he uses his shoulder is a lot better, and his shoulder function is better. The night pain that he had before surgery is gone, and overall, he’s doing great!” said Dr. Blake.

If you’ve injured your shoulder and pain doesn’t go away, Avera offers orthopedic walk-in care at two Sioux Falls urgent care clinics. This team can help confirm a diagnosis and get you on the fast track to recovery.

For more information, visit avera.org/medicalminute.